Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Gibson (1855–1936)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

Robert Gibson (1855-1936), farmer and land agent, was born on 19 May 1855 at Stephen Street, Melbourne, eldest of six sons of John Gibson, shoemaker, and his wife Marion, née Gemmell, both from Ayrshire, Scotland. The family moved to Colac in 1856 where John followed his trade; in 1875, after inspecting the Riverina, New South Wales, he selected part of Gunbar station which he named Narringa. The Gibsons, with six sons, were prominent in the Hay district closer settlement. Robert was educated at Colac and, after teaching at Daylesford Grammar School for a year, gained business experience with Alexander Hamilton, Colac flour-miller and architect. He married Isabella McLeod at Ovens Bank near Peechelba on 16 November 1882. While acquiring farming expertise Robert revealed organizing skills as secretary of the Gunbar Free Selectors' Association.

About 1889 at Hay Gibson set up as a land, stock and general commission agent: his business gave him an unrivalled knowledge of the western lands and he frequently appeared for clients before the Land Board. The Selectors Guide, his companion to the 1884 and 1889 Crown Lands Acts, became the settlers' vade-mecum. He was a director of the Hay butter factory, a partner of the boiling-down works, a committee-member of the local Pastoral and Agricultural Society, secretary of the Federation League, an elder of the Presbyterian Church and mayor of Hay in 1892, 1902 and 1903.

After supporting John Andrews, originator of the experimental Hay irrigation scheme, Gibson took up land in the area and was president of the Hay Municipal Irrigation Trust in 1902-06. He believed that irrigation was essential to the survival of closer settlement west of Narrandera, and in 1901 was convinced by Hugh McKinney, chief engineer of the water conservation, irrigation, and drainage branch of the Department of Public Works, that irrigation would never be adequately developed by government. Gibson promoted the Murrumbidgee northern water supply and irrigation bill as a commercial undertaking. He adapted McKinney's northern scheme and drew heavily on government data.

Backed by Victorians William Cain, M.L.C., and Sir Malcolm McEacharn, London guarantors and community enthusiasm, Gibson approached parliament in 1903 but his efforts to get legislation were frustrated. After standing, unsuccessfully, as an independent for the State seat of Murray in 1904, he was guaranteed action by (Sir) Joseph Carruthers, but an emasculated bill was dropped after lobbying from Hay. At a 1905 conference Gibson's standing was acknowledged, and a compromise solution favoured government or private enterprise launching Murrumbidgee irrigation scheme, with government right of resumption. In 1905 an amended bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, but an accompanying departmental scheme was approved, breaking Gibson's health and finances; he was denied claims for expenses. He never received due recognition, with McKinney, for proposing the first extensive irrigation scheme in New South Wales.

In 1908 Gibson moved to Harden and opened Robert Gibson & Sons, a stockselling agency. He continued to make land evaluations and helped with the evaluation of Yarralumla station for the Federal Capital Territory. In 1913 he was again defeated for Murray by R. Scobie. Through the Farmers and Settlers' Association he fought for a fair price for wheat.

Gibson died in his sleep at Young on 3 September 1936, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Murrumburrah cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two of his six sons and two daughters, one of whom, Jessie, married Albert David Reid, later senator.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Clark, The Family of John and Marion Gibson, of Narringa, Gunbar, 1854-1974, and A. and B. Gibson, John and Marion Gibson and their Descendants in Australia 1854-1974 (Hay, NSW, 1974)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1904, 1, p 321, 1906, 5, p 531 (15)
  • Select Committee on Murrumbidgee North … Bill, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1903, 1905
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1906, p 531
  • Hay Historical Society, Proceedings, Jan 1977
  • Riverine Grazier, 24 July 1903
  • Colac Herald, 18 May 1917
  • Sydney Morning Herakd, 4 Sept 1936
  • Harden Express and Galong Reporter, 10 Sept 1936
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Gibson, Robert (1855–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 May, 1855
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


3 September, 1936 (aged 81)
Young, New South Wales, Australia

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